Are Realists, Optimists, Or Pessimists Better Leaders?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Being a leader can entail knowing what needs to be done, delegating tasks, and working well with others. However, leadership success may be as much about your thoughts and outlook as your actions. One leader may be brimming with positivity and optimism, while another may carefully consider potential downsides. For this reason, people may wonder what psychology today has to say about whether optimists or pessimists make better leaders.

Optimistic leaders may inspire with their tenacity, and their can-do attitude might help them stand firm in adversity. On the contrary, a pessimistic leader may be more detail-oriented and risk-averse, allowing them to make safe decisions. Examining both types to understand which fits you best can be helpful.  

Mindset can be crucial when developing leadership skills

Optimists as leaders

Being optimistic may affect how a leader acts and makes decisions. When people think of leaders, they may envision an optimistic leader with a positive attitude. There are several key traits and benefits of optimistic leaders and how they may affect team morale, adaptability, and hardiness, including but not necessarily limited to the following. 

Positive influence on team morale

Optimistic leaders may act as a source of inspiration and motivation for others. They may have a hopeful message to share, even in challenging moments. These leaders may create a happy workplace and help their team believe they can succeed. By aiming high, optimistic leaders may push others to do their best and show them that anything is possible. In a company environment, for example, optimism may lead to a team excited to come to work and ready to give it their all.


Optimistic leaders may be apt at handling uncertainty, which can be valuable as the world constantly changes. They might see challenges as chances for growth rather than obstacles and be able to adjust strategies accordingly. Optimists prefer to think creatively, develop new ideas, and make plans. They can help their teams be adaptable and innovative, figuring out how to succeed no matter the circumstances. 


Hardiness may also be valuable for successful leaders, and optimists are often natural at it. They may stay positive, look to the future, and bounce back quickly when a situation doesn’t go as planned. Optimists might see difficult moments as bumps in the road, not dead ends. This rigid attitude may not only keep them going, but it may also inspire their team. It can show team members that they can overcome challenges and persist. 

Pessimists as leaders

Pessimists are often seen as a counterbalance to optimists, as they may have a different way of making decisions and solving problems. Pessimism as a leadership trait may have its own advantages, as it may provide a different angle on risk management and more realistic expectations.

Risk assessment and mitigation

Pessimist leaders may have a knack for spotting risks before they become problems. They may be on the lookout for what could go wrong, protecting their team and ensuring they stay on track. Pessimistic leaders may be effective at planning for the worst, so if an unexpected event happens, they may have a backup plan ready to go.

This attention to potential problems may make pessimists careful decision-makers. Pessimist leaders may weigh every option thoroughly before making a choice. They might consider all the factors and possible outcomes. Because of their aptitude for weighing options, they may make decisions that keep their team safe and help the organization succeed.

Getty/MoMo Productions

Realistic expectations

Pessimist leaders may be known for keeping a realistic view of situations. They may be less likely to make promises they can't keep or set goals their team can't reach. They may also ensure the team knows what's expected of them, which can help create a work environment where everyone knows their job and understands any challenges they might face.

Because they might see possible roadblocks ahead, pessimist leaders might prepare their team to manage various challenges. They may give their team the coping strategies to handle problems effectively. An honest and realistic approach may build trust, keep everyone accountable, and strengthen the team's ability to bounce back from difficulties.

Balancing your world outlook for leadership

If you aspire to be a successful leader, you may want to know how to balance a pessimistic and optimistic outlook in different situations. The following are strategies you might use to develop your leadership style.

Develop self-awareness

Successful leaders are often aware of their natural strengths and weaknesses. If you think about how you typically react to situations, you may learn whether you are more of an optimist or pessimist. You might find areas where you can improve your leadership and understand your emotions better to make decisions and communicate more effectively. Self-awareness may also help you connect with your team on a deeper level, which may build trust and create an effective work environment.

Embrace optimism

Optimistic leaders can connect with their teams more effectively, as people are naturally drawn to those with a positive attitude. Bringing optimism into your leadership style may inspire your team and motivate them to work toward common goals. In addition, optimistic leaders can build an atmosphere of enthusiasm and positivity that fuels an innovative work environment. Embracing optimism may lead to more creative thinking and improved problem-solving.

Understand situational leadership styles

Situational leadership can mean changing your leadership style based on what's happening. In some cases, it may be best to focus on detail-oriented results. In other cases, you may benefit from focusing more on your team members. You can build a well-rounded and effective team by understanding each person's qualities and adapting your approach. This strategy also means being aware of changes in your workplace and switching up your leadership style when necessary.

Develop a growth mindset

Leaders who see challenges as chances to learn and grow have a growth mindset. This way of thinking may help you become a more adaptable and decisive leader, ready for whatever comes your way. Having a growth mindset may also mean you're looking for ways to learn and improve, which can create a team culture focused on development and adaptability. A growth mindset may lead to long-term success.

Find a balance between optimism and realism

While optimism can be valuable, try to include elements of realism into your leadership style. Being realistic may help leaders assess situations and make intelligent decisions without losing sight of the potential for positive outcomes. By blending optimism with realism, leaders may better handle the complex parts of their jobs and guide their teams to success. A balanced perspective can also make for smart planning and risk management, which may give you a strategy for overcoming problems.

The above methods are just a few ways to develop a healthy mindset for being an ideal leader. It may take time, persistence, and making mistakes to become an effective leader, whether in your work or personal life. In some cases, it may be helpful to seek the help of a professional, such as a coach or therapist, to help you iron out obstacles keeping you from being the leader you want to be.  

Mindset can be crucial when developing leadership skills

Professional advice for becoming a better leader

Finding mental health support or advice as you develop leadership skills may help speed up the process. However, it can be challenging to find in-person therapy if you have a busy schedule or financial constraints. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial. 

Online therapy may provide an accessible way for business leaders to work on their mindset and leadership skills. With online therapy sessions, leaders have an opportunity to better understand their thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors. A therapist may help you improve your problem-solving abilities, communication with team members, and overall leadership style.

Studies have found that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy. Leaders who choose to use online therapy may get the same benefits and improve their mental health and leadership skills as they would if they went to see a therapist face-to-face.

Online platforms can match you with a licensed therapist who may be able to support you in various areas, including leadership and professional development. By working with a therapist online, aspiring leaders may gain insight into their leadership style, learn strategies to improve their team's ability, and ultimately become better leaders in their respective fields. 


When looking at leadership qualities, consider the benefits of optimists and pessimists. Optimists are often solution-focused individuals who look to solve problems. They may be proactive problem solvers who can adapt to change and create a positive work environment.

Still, a balance between pessimists and optimists may lead to improved teamwork and more engaged employees. Pessimists are often more cautious, which may make them effective at assessing risks and recognizing potential problems. A team made up of optimistic and pessimistic leaders can work together and use their different strengths to create a more balanced and successful work environment.

Understand how different outlooks can shape life
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